Don’t Fall For These Insurance Scams Post Hurricane Irma

The sun shines over a clear sky and a hurricane evacuation route sign in old downtown Port Arthur, Texas, Thursday, May 17, 2007. Officials are meeting in Florida to discuss the upcoming hurricane season. Photo: AP Photo/LM Otero.

It’s hurricane season, and already Florida has been victim to a major storm leaving behind a mess of destruction. With destruction comes the dreaded insurance claims process as well.

While insurance usually grants residents with hurricane damage a sigh of relief, there is the chance that it can turn into a nightmare for some. In the midst of an active hurricane season Laura Adams, Senior Insurance Analyst for insuranceQuotes.com, warns about five popular insurance scams.

Paying for repairs upfront, misusing an Assignment of Benefits contract, bogus victim relief funds, robocalls wanting storm victims to pay up, and fake job postings are all insurance scams that seem to get the most people after hurricanes hit.

“As property owners begin repairing homes and businesses in the wake of Hurricane Irma there will be a variety of scams to watch out for,” said Adams. “Insurance-related scams can happen with any type of insurance product. However, homeowners are particularly vulnerable in the wake of a major storm because repairs are typically needed urgently and can be expensive.”

Many Florida residents will find that to be true as they scurry to repair roofs and water damage just as Hurricane Maria strengthens in the Atlantic.

When working with contractors for house repairs, Adams says most reputable contractors will require some amount of payment upfront.

“However, if a contractor asks for payment in full to get started, that’s a red flag.”

She suggests negotiating a reasonable deposit, such as 10 to 15 percent, and pay the rest of the balance only when the work is completed to your satisfaction.

To further protect yourself from an insurance scam while fixing repairs, get a written estimate that includes a description of the work with clean up and any disposal, materials included, starting and ending dates, and the total price.

“Also consider paying with a credit card, so you have the ability to dispute the charge if the contractor doesn’t follow through on your agreement,” Adams explains.

“A common misstep is signing an Assignment of Benefits (AOB) form, giving a contractor the power to seek payment directly from the insurance company. In Florida, it’s become prevalent in roof and water damage claims, but could allow an unscrupulous contractor to pad your bill.”

A house rests on the beach after collapsing off a cliff from Hurricane Irma in Vilano Beach, Fla., Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. Florida’s economy has long thrived on one major import: people. Irma raised concerns about just how sustainable the allure of Florida’s year-round warmth and lifestyle are. The wind, rain and flooding inflicted an estimated $50 billion in damage. Photo: AP Photo/David Goldman.

While getting any house damages fixed quickly is the motive, be sure to slow down and look for any other red flags when dealing with contractors.

If you were one of the lucky ones with no house damage, don’t think you’re out of the woods yet. Robocalls, which are phone calls from a digital auto dialer, are used for legitimate and illegitimate purposed following a natural disaster.

“A common scam after a major storm is receiving a robocall posing as your insurance company,” said Adams. “The message says your insurance premium is late and that your home and flood policies will be canceled unless you send money immediately.”

Adams suggests if you think your account is past due, contact your insurance company or agency directly instead of going through the robocall.

Alongside robocalls, bogus victim relief funds will start surfacing asking for donations. These fake victim relief funds can take form through email, text, social media, and crowdfunding sites said, Adams. The Federal Trade Commission has a couple of sites that assist in researching the validity of the funds, per Adams:

Lastly, a common scam following a major disaster is fake job postings. Adams explains that FEMA hires workers to support the recovery efforts after hurricanes such as Harvey and Irma.

“You can find legitimate jobs on the FEMA website at https://careers.fema.gov/. If you hear about an opportunity, but don’t see it listed there, it’s probably a fake posting that may be tied to a scam, such as requiring an upfront fee to begin work.”

Job posting rumors can quickly circulate on Facebook and other social media accounts and be exactly that, just rumors.

InsuranceQuotes provides further information when it comes to insurance deductibles and claims per state. The website also gives inside knowledge about renters insurance.

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Allison Leslie is a University of South Florida graduate with a bachelors degree in Mass Communications. She joined Genesis in 2016. With a passion for sports, Allison has interned with 620 WDAE, Pewter Report, Trifecta Team: St. Petersburg Bowl, Bullscast, and many other publications. Being a native to the Bay Area, she has followed and supported Tampa Bay teams her whole life.